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Helping Floridians Navigate The Affordable Housing Crisis

Jodi Pena-Castaldi. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Jodi Pena-Castaldi. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition named the Orlando metro area as the worst place in the country for affordable housing, with only 13 affordable and available rental homes per 100 low-income renter households.

Jodi Peña-Castaldi, manager of community initiatives at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, stops by Intersection to discuss the impact of the Central Florida affordable housing crisis.

Peña-Castaldi, who has been a housing counselor since 1990, says the homes put on the market in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford sell quickly which in turn drives up the housing prices. She says while people in Orlando have been "priced out of the housing market" for about the last 18 months, the affordable housing problem has now spread to Volusia County.

“That’s why people are housing poor right now, they’re using more than 50 percent of their income to pay for housing because you have to have a roof over your head so that you can go to school, get a job, all those things that come with housing,” Peña-Castaldi says.

The 2010 foreclosure crisis contributed to the problem because many former homeowners found themselves in search of affordable rentals. Signing for rentals outside of their budgets led many renters to suffer in other areas of their lives, Peña-Castaldi says.

“Usually what happens when those types of rentals come up is that health starts falling by the wayside, you can’t afford your prescriptions, you’re not paying your health care, you’re not buying healthy food, so everything kind of snowballs,” Peña-Castaldi says. “Affordable housing is the epicenter of all things that happen to people.”

Peña-Castaldi said while options for rental assistance do exist, it can take two to four years for renters to even have their names taken off waiting lists.

“There is assistance out there for rental assistance — you’ve got your public housing, your Section 8 — but those all have waiting lists, and right now the waiting lists are closed,” she says.

Peña-Castaldi provides housing counseling with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, a full-service law firm that provides civil legal aid for zero- to low-income residents in 12 Central Florida counties. She said the lack of affordable housing in the Orlando metro area coupled with Florida’s minimum wage rates makes the process “incredibly frustrating” for those searching to buy or rent a home.

“We tell them to be persistent and to not give up,” Peña-Castaldi says. “What we tell people is that all you can do is take care of business. You have to continue to keep a roof over your head.”